Category Archives: vegetables

Spicy Pickled Okra

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You know those days that just completely kick you in the ass? And then, while you’re down they kick you some more? I have had a few of those days this week. First, a predator dug into what I thought was my secure chicken coop and got my girls. And then it just kept coming, to the point where when the class fish, Car, died I had nothing left to do but laugh. It was overwhelming, how too-damn-much the situation was.

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Life can sometimes feel like all you’re doing is treading water in open ocean, just trying to breathe deeply between waves hitting you in the face. I’m great at treading water, though, and when you get on the boat there is always a jar of pickled okra in the cooler. Or at least there should be.

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Spicy Pickled Okra

4 pounds of fresh okra

6 pint size canning jars with lids and bands

3 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar

3 1/2 cups water

6 tbsp red pepper flakes

24 cloves garlic

2 tbsp salt

6 tsps whole mustard seeds

6 tsps whole cumin seeds

2 jalapeños, sliced

1 habanero, minced

6 tbsps garlic hot sauce

Begin by sterilizing your jars.  About an hour before you want to can fill two large pots with water.  I recommend that you have some canning equipment, at the very least a large pot with a rack and a pair of tongs.  You’ll need a separate pot for sterilizing your jars and lids.  Bring both pots of water to a boil.  In one pot (the one without a lid) place your jars and the lids (not the screw bands).  Allow them to boil for at least 10 minutes, but keep them in the pot until right before you fill them.

In a non reactive sauce pan heat vinegar, water, and salt.

Clean the okra and cut off the stems.  In each sterilized jar, place two cloves of garlic, two slices of jalapeño, a pinch of fresh habanero, 1 tbsp red pepper flakes, 1 tsp mustard seeds, 1 tsp cumin seeds, and as much okra as you can pack in tightly.  Whisk hot sauce into vinegar mixture and ladle into each jar, leaving about 1/4″ headspace.  Wipe the rim down, place a clean lid on each jar, and screw band on tightly.  Process in your large pot (with rack) for 10 minutes.  Remove from water, give the band another squeeze, and allow to sit.  Once the jars have sealed (you’ll know if you can’t pop the lid up and down), set them in a cool, dark place for at least two weeks.  They will stay for up to a year.

**As with any preservation process, there are risks.  If you notice anything abnormal, discard the pickles immediately.  Botulism is no fun.**

9/100: Columbus County Beet & Goat Cheese Pizza

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There are many things to love about a Farmer’s Market– an excuse to wake up early on a Saturday and indulge in a freshly made breakfast, the opportunity to eat locally and seasonally, the chance to taste fruits and vegetables that are as fresh as they can be. For me the best part might be talking with the farmers, getting to hear how things are grown, joking with them about the best ways to prepare certain foods, gaining insight into the food philosophy of the people growing my fruits and vegetables. It’s an empowering experience, something that brings you much closer to your food than standing in a grocery store aisle.

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Recently I met my friend Heather at the Columbus County Community Farmer’s Market, a permanent open-air market in Columbus County, NC. Columbus County is a rural county located in Southeastern North Carolina, about an hour’s drive from Wilmington. In the two years that we’ve been here I’ve traveled to Columbus County a few times to visit Lake Waccamaw, a beautiful fresh water lake surrounded by campgrounds and a small community. When I started researching the area for this series, I stumbled across the farmer’s market, which was established in 1998 and has been funded by the Rural Advancement Foundation International and the North Carolina Tobacco Trustfund Commission. The farmer’s market is housed in a permanent open air structure and boasts space for up to 20 local vendors.

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Strolling through the market on a late Spring Saturday reminded me of all those midwinter days when I found my thoughts drifting to warm summer mornings, fresh fruits, crisp vegetables, air thick with humidity. The drive combined with my total inability to wake up early (ever) meant I arrived at the market midmorning after the early riser rush. I may have missed out on some of the vegetables but the trade off was well worth it- the farmers were free to chat. One of the things I was surprised by was how many of the farmers we met were excitedly offering organic heirloom vegetables. At almost every stand we had a conversation with the farmers about the sometimes underappreciated beauty of mis-shapen heirloom vegetables, why it’s best to avoid using Sure-Jell in your jams, and how a solution of vinegar and soap can keep the pests away. One farmer that we spoke with for a while who was the essence of charm, was John of Higher Ground Organic Gardens. He had a beautiful crop of potatoes, beets, carrots, kolrabi, beans, squash, and (much to Heather’s delight) rhubarb. John was sweet and kind, answering our questions and telling us about how things are growing this year. I walked away from the market with fingerling beets, beet greens, green beans, and patty pan squash.

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Heather came down from Raleigh for the weekend to talk blogging and work on her practicum project. She is a finishing up her graduate work at Meredith and has decided to work with me for her practicum project, helping me research three counties for the Tasting North Carolina series- Wake, Forsyth, and Lenoir. I thought visiting an additional county on my list, Columbus, would be a good way to kick off the weekend, so after meeting at the farmer’s market we headed down to Lake Waccamaw for lunch at Dale’s Seafood. When I was researching things to visit and see in Columbus Co. I found an article from Our State that does a much better job of explaining the history of the lake than I ever could, particularly the theories concerning how it was formed and the life teeming in the water. Dale’s sits on the shores of the lake, overlooking its 9,000 acres. We sat and took in good old fashioned Southern meat and three fare- I had a deviled crab, fried okra, and hush puppies and Heather enjoyed the steamed shrimp platter- and watched the lake, which is serene and breathtaking in its expanse.

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Columbus County is surrounded by Bladen, Pender, and Robeson counties to the North and Horry and Brunswick counties to the South. Its county seat, Whiteville, is where you’ll find the Columbus County Community Farmer’s Market, as well as the community that it serves. The next time you’re driving down to the beach stop by for some fresh vegetables, good company, and a glimpse of one of the Carolina Bays.

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Beet and Goat Cheese Pizza 

Dough: 
1 tbsp dry active yeast
2 ½ cups bread flour
1 ½ tbsp olive oil
¾ cup warm water
½ tbsp fresh rosemary
1 tbsp kosher salt

topping:

6 fingerling beets, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 cup goat cheese
2 spicy pork sausages, cooked and sliced
Olive oil
Sea salt
Handful of beet greens or kale

Whisk together olive oil, yeast, salt, basil, and water. Whisk until fully incorporated, at least 2 minutes. Add half of the flour and stir with a wooden spoon. Add remaining flour and knead for ten minutes, until the dough feels like a stress ball.

Coat a glass bowl with olive oil. Place the dough ball in the bowl, turn once, and cover with a damp towel. Let rise for at least an hour. Punch down and let rise another 15 minutes.

Roll out your dough and heat your oven to 500 (or as high as it goes).  Spread goat cheese evenly across the dough (as best you can), then follow with beets and sausage. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Bake 12-15 minutes or until golden brown. Top with fresh greens and serve hot.

Vinegar Salad

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One of my dad’s classic summer side dishes is tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions that have been marinated in vinegar and salt for a few hours. Served cold, it’s a tart and fresh salad that pairs wonderfully with all manner of easy summer dinners, particularly those whipped up on the grill and enjoyed on the porch.

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As part of my Farm to Fork dinner at Greenlands Farm I mixed together a variation of the salad with green and purple beans, dragon’s egg cucumbers, onions, and garlic all from the farm. Served in lemon squash boats with a dollop of herbed goat’s cheese over a bed of kale salad, it hit the spot.

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Vinegar Salad

2 cucumbers

2 dozen green and purple wax beans

1 small green onion

1 small red onion

2 cloves garlic

4 cups apple cider vinegar

1 tsp sea salt

Mince garlic and chop cucumbers, beans, and onions into bite sized pieces.  Toss in vinegar and salt, cover, and refrigerate at least two hours (though overnight is better). Serve chilled alongside the best of what your grill has to offer.